HISTORY OF WORLD CLASS
World Class was founded in 1983 by the athlete and entrepreneur Ulf Bengtsson. By that time, Ulf had already built a successful career as one of the world’s leading bodybuilders – he was the undefeated Swedish and Nordic champion for ten consecutive years and at his peak ranked third globally. Ulf spent the 1970s in Los Angeles. His idea was born in the environment that had World Gym and Gold’s Gym, where he’d trained side-by-side with Frank Zane and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even then, Ulf Bengtsson knew that everyone needs physical activity to feel good, be productive and content in life.
25 years ago, Ulf Bengtsson stopped working on body perfection. Instead, he began to build something else. Something with the aim of becoming the most successful company in the health and fitness industry.
By the time I was 12, I already wanted to be a world champion in something; the only question was – what? I tried my hand at various sports that I could find in Arvika, my hometown. I have the same mindset today. Starting a big business and being a professional athlete is very similar,” says Ulf Bengtsson, the founder of World Class International.
He was always at odds with his goals, which were sometimes larger than life. When he was young, working out and becoming the best was everything to him. Not only the best in Arvika – but in the world. He found his calling during the 1970s. A sport where he was to become the elite – bodybuilding. For many years, he lifted weights and had all the right predispositions – the necessary stubbornness and passionate commitment. At his peak, Ulf Bengtsson stood on the podium and ranked third in the World Bodybuilding Championship.
“While I was competing, I spent a lot of time in Los Angeles. Everyone who shared my fervent interest in sports used to gather in Santa Monica and Venice Beach. I worked with the biggest names in bodybuilding there, such as Frank Zane, Samir Bannout and, of course, Arnold. This environment inspired me and that’s when my ideas – which I later turned into reality – were born.”
When his career as an athlete came to a close, Ulf Bengtsson started the “trend of promoting a healthy lifestyle and exercise,” which has today grown into a real movement in Sweden and many other countries. His Wold Class Company was born in 1983. He bought workout equipment, sold his clothes and opened his first gym at Atlasgatan in Stockholm, Sweden.
“A few years later, I opened the World Class Health Studio. It had a salad bar, group workout sessions, the morning club for businesses, and everything else that decent fitness clubs in the area offered. It was a place where celebrities like Bruce Springsteen could come and work out at whenever they were in Stockholm. The gym was far above its competitors in the area, in the industry that was just beginning to gain public recognition.”
The next step was to expand the brand beyond Sweden. He opened centers across Europe, the Soviet Union and the Middle East. In 1995, part of his business in Russia was lost, which took the ground from under the company.
“We were the largest in Russia and I focused predominantly on that region. When that was lost, it was as if I had fallen back to where I’d started. All I had left was my brand, a few friends and the burning conviction that I will reach the top again.”
Ulf moved to Brussels and started building his business there from scratch. A few years ago, World Class saw an impressive growth in the Swedish stock market. His original business concept was to keep developing the World Class brand in the field of health, recovery and lifestyle – not only in Sweden but across the globe. Today, World Class gyms can be found in eight countries and have almost 60,000 members in total! The company marked its biggest success outside of Sweden, in Eastern Europe, mainly in Romania.
“Today, I can confidently claim that we’re at the forefront of the fitness industry in Europe, and we’re certainly at the top in many countries. Our exclusive, enticing and efficient facilities always offer the latest workout trends, and our members are well cared for. It’s been a fantastic journey, from my first gym at Atlasgatan to everything that World Class offers our clients today. The most exciting thing for us has been the opening of our pride and joy at Nybrogtan 8 in Stockholm, a few years back. Here, you see everything we stand for across Europe.”
There is much more to be done, as the health care industry has grown a lot. The future is bright.
“12–15% of adults in the West are regularly active and do not mind paying for a workout session. The remaining 85% are our potential members. The general interest in health is a trend that keeps growing, and we offer excellent lifestyle choices. As most jobs still involve sitting, it’s now more important than ever to teach children the benefits of physical activity. People should be encouraged to stay healthy. This can only bring great results to our society,” concludes Ulf Bengtsson.